The Abruzzo: Fabulous land, people, and wines

Beautiful landscapes! Great foods! Fabulous wines! Friendly people!   That’s how I describe our most recent wine expedition to the Abruzzo region.   The drive from Rome east on A24-A25 to the Abruzzo takes you through small, gorgeous valleys that are guarded by formidable mountains on the way to a turquoise Adriatic.  My research of the Abruzzo prior to our trip, included references to how the combination of the Apennines to the west and the Adriatic to the east creates the perfect climatic conditions for grapes and olives.  Indeed it does, and I would add “people” to that list. The rolling terrain is covered in a patchwork of vineyards and olive orchards.  From our base we established at the Castello di Chiola in the picturesque hill town of Loreto Aprutino, it was a striking contrast to look 10 miles to the west at snowcapped mountains, and 10 miles east to the Adriatic Sea.  Did I mention this was in June? Yes, snow capped mountains in the middle of June.  Google “Gran Sasso” and you too will understand why there is snow in June—the peak is 9500 feet above sea level, which by the way, is only 30 miles west of the warm beaches near Montesilvano.

Did I mention the wines are fabulous?  Shortly after checking into basecamp Chiola in the afternoon, we wandered a few cobblestones away to Ristorante Convivio where owner Adrianno reopened just for us and then proceeded to cook us a fantastic lunch (pranzo).  I get some of my best wine recommendations from locals, and Adrianno was a rich source of advice and stories.  He described how we were staying just a few steps away from the famous Montepulciano winemaker Valentini, who can count the Pope among his customers.  And then there was Emidio Pepe who is legendary for producing wines that are all natural and “biologica” (biodynamic) to the point of crushing the grapes with bare feet.  To pair with our lunch, I asked Adrianno for a recommendation from his cellar, and he quickly (and appropriately) asked, “What’s your budget?” I quickly replied that it was something far below that of the Vatican.  He brought us a 2008 Masciarelli, and it was delicious.   We tasted over a dozen different Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines over the nine days in Italy, and I soon came to realize that you can universally describe them as “floral and spicy on the nose, big and round in the mouth, with silky-soft tannins on the finish”.  The low acidity, big fruit, and soft tannins make these friendly reds that pair easily with a wide range of foods. 

As we met with producers over the days that followed, we came to love the other great wines from the region including Pecorino, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.  The region’s proximity to the Adriatic means a rich choice of fresh seafood, which pairs well with the clean, crisp finish of the Trebbiano and the refreshing taste of the Cerasuolo. One of our best surprises was meeting Nicola Jasci of Jasci & Marchesani (Vasto) and tasting his Riesling.  Italian Riesling? It’s absolutely delicious! Nicola’s Pecorino equally impressed and paired very well with our fresh fish lunch.  Nicola’s mastery of his vineyards just west of the town was evident in his wines. 

Seventy-six kilometers north of our base at Loreto Aprutino is the small town of Controguerra.  The majority of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata); however Controguerra is located in a very small area known as Colline Teramane that was established in 1995 and promoted to D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in 2003.

It was here, a few kilometers outside of Controguerra that we met Corrado De Anglis Corvi, a noble man whose passion for his craft speaks to you the moment you shake his hand.  As we walked his hillside vineyards of Montepulciano and Trebbiano vines, it was clear that his passion was deeply rooted with his reverence for the land.  Corrado’s wines epitomize the best qualities and characteristics of what can be borne from this idyllic land and climate.  His Montepulciano d’Abruzzo introduces itself with a big, floral and spicy nose.  It lands on the palate with big, luscious fruit, and delivers a silky soft (morbido) finish that seems to go on and on.  As big as this wine delivers, it is very friendly and approachable.  The soft tannins and low acidity allow for a soft landing and smooth finish.

My images of the Abruzzo will include the incredibly diverse terrain, with its snow capped mountain tops, rolling hills of vineyards and orchards, and sandy beaches that are continually washed by the warm, turquoise waters of the Adriatic. 

I will try to hold on, as long as possible, to the memories of the delicious local flavors our palates experienced while our eyes were drawn to ancient castles in hilltop towns and on cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, such as Castello Aragonese in Ortona. And, of course, I will remember the friendly, gracious people we met and hope to meet again soon.  Their warmth and hospitality will live on in our stories.  I am grateful to Leonardo, the General Manager of the Castello Chiola, for sharing a bottle (bottiglia) of Emedio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from his personal cellar. Molto grazie per la vostra ospitalita!

Oh, did I mention the wines are fabulous?

Don Chigazola